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Pimlico Ace Prado Gives Peace a Chance

Funny Cide favored on what might be an off track, but jockey could make difference for Peace Rules.

May 17, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

Baltimore — The camp of Funny Cide, the Kentucky Derby winner, appears to fear Peace Rules' jockey, Edgar Prado, more than Peace Rules himself in the 128th running of the Preakness today at Pimlico.

"There's no question that Prado moves Peace Rules up," Robin Smullen, trainer Barclay Tagg's assistant, said this week at Funny Cide's barn at Belmont Park. "[Jose Santos, Funny Cide's jockey] has won some stakes at Pimlico over the years, but Edgar knows the Pimlico strip better than anybody, and it goes without saying that he knows how to win there."

Today, after Tagg saddles the 7-5 morning-line favorite, Funny Cide will try to add the second jewel in racing's elusive Triple Crown. Peace Rules, a tenacious third in the Derby two weeks ago, beaten by almost two lengths, is 8-5 according to the Pimlico linemaker.

A crowd of more than 100,000 will watch, with the chance that the Preakness might be run on an off track for only the second time in the last 11 years. It rained all day Friday -- close to two inches -- at Pimlico, and more rain was forecast overnight. The forecast calls for clearing today, with temperatures in the low 60s.

Starting in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, it rained Prado victories here. The Peruvian dominated the Pimlico riding colony the way no jockey -- not Chris McCarron, not Kent Desormeaux -- ever did. McCarron and Desormeaux set Pimlico single-season win records that not even Prado was able to touch, but after a few years they both fled Maryland for more lucrative opportunities in Southern California.

Prado was in Maryland for the long haul. He stayed for 12 years, won more than 1,000 races at Pimlico alone, and racked up 14 riding titles at the Preakness track.

The congenial, soft-spoken Prado, who'll turn 36 next month, seems somewhat surprised that he has being given such a home-court advantage today.

"What I've done at Pimlico in the past doesn't matter," he said. "If you don't have the horse, you can't win. I can't carry the horse across the finish line."

Prado's record in the Preakness befits his comments. With six mounts in the race, he has a best of two fourth-place finishes and four of his mounts were trounced in the 1 3/16-mile race. Most of the horses were longshots -- one went off at 99-1 -- and Prado didn't catch a valid contender until last year, when Harlan's Holiday ran fourth at 5-1.

Peace Rules gives Prado his best chance. The colt, who could be on the lead, was undefeated with Prado -- wins in the Louisiana Derby (when Funny Cide ran third) and the Blue Grass Stakes -- before the Kentucky Derby.

"This horse loves to fight," Prado said. "He's very reluctant to let a horse go by him. I think he's the horse to beat."

Prado might still be the Maryland kingpin if Richard Migliore hadn't broken his right arm in a spill at Belmont in July 1999. Trainer John Kimmel, who was using Migliore as his regular rider, needed a replacement for the upcoming meet at Saratoga, and he asked Prado to move to New York.

"Saratoga is one of the toughest meets in the country," Prado said, "but I said to myself, 'Why not?' I won 36 races, and finished second in the standings, and then I stayed in New York."

It was at Belmont Park, last year, where Prado registered his only Triple Crown win. Several days before the Belmont Stakes, Harlan's Holiday was caught in a trainer switch from Ken McPeek to Todd Pletcher, and he didn't run in the Belmont. McPeek reached for his bench, showed up with 70-1 shot Sarava and Prado, with a clever ride, rode the colt to a half-length win, smashing War Emblem's Triple Crown bid and giving the Belmont its biggest win payoff ever.

In 1997, Prado won 536 races. Last year, his mounts earned $18 million as he finished second to Jerry Bailey on the national money list. This year, he ranks second to Bailey with $6.4 million. Trainer Bobby Frankel, who trains Peace Rules, used Prado to win the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap with Milwaukee Brew in March.

"Three times he gave me lights-out rides with Milwaukee Brew," Frankel said. "He's a perfect fit for that horse."

Prado made another trip to Santa Anita this winter to accept the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. His wife Lilliana accompanied him.

"We both liked California," Prado said, "but I don't see that I'll be going out there to ride anytime soon."

McCarron, the new general manager at Santa Anita, gave up riding last year and was followed into retirement by fellow Hall of Famers Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay this year. McCarron said recently that riders like Prado, if recruited properly, might help fill the gap in the West Coast jockeys' rooms.

"I know the timing could be good now," Prado said, "but what I don't like about California racing is that the fields are so small. The opportunities to ride out there aren't as good as they are here.

"The only other places you can go to ride are the Northern California tracks, and from Southern California, you've got to travel almost 3,000 miles to get a mount anywhere else. Based in New York, you're close to tracks all over the place -- Monmouth Park, Delaware Park, the Meadowlands and the Maryland tracks as well as a few others. California can't give me all these opportunities."

Asked how many horses, on average, he'd like to ride per day, Prado said:

"I just like to win races. If you give me 10 horses that might win, I'll ride all 10 races for you."

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